Kangaroos Can Communicate With Humans Like Dogs, Study Finds

Kangaroos Can Communicate With Humans Like Dogs, Study Finds

What if kangaroos could communicate with us? That too on their own? Researchers from the University of Roehampton and the University of Sydney found that animals that were never domesticated like kangaroos could intentionally communicate with humans. It breaks the notion that this behaviour is restricted only to domesticated animals.

The research included 11 kangaroos which were captive, but not domesticated. The team did this at around three locations in Australia (Australian Reptile Park, Wildlife Sydney Zoo and Kangaroo Protection Co-Operative). When given the “unsolvable problem” a box filled with food that they couldn’t open, the kangaroos gazed at the researchers.

The kangaroos used gazes as a form of communication rather than attempting to open the box. We usually associate such behaviour with domestic animals.

While 10 out of 11 kangaroos gazed at the human intently, 9 even looked back and forth between the researcher and the box. (as if they were asking the human to open the box). Basis of this research builds on previous work done, which was focused on communication of domesticated animals (like dogs, goats) and whether intentional communication in animals results from domestication.

Dr Alan McElligott, the lead author of the paper, has also conducted a study previously which showed goats can understand cues. McElligott’s research builds on studies conducted with horses, dogs and goats that elicited similar results. The new research suggests that animals could adapt their usual social behaviours for interacting with humans.

McElligott added that this study reveals that communication between animals can be learnt and the behaviour of gazing at humans to access food is not related to domestication. Further to our surprise, the research also found the same behaviour across several kangaroo species, even ones such as eastern grey and red kangaroos with reputations for being skittish.

With kangaroos which are the first marsupials to be studied and the results being positive, we could see more research in this field beyond the usual domestic species.

Alexandra Green from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney said: “Kangaroos are iconic Australian endemic fauna, adored by many worldwide but also considered as a pest”. She added that this research is a way for us to understand the abilities of kangaroos and helps improve a more positive attitude towards them. Green also says she hopes the findings will engender some kind feelings towards the study’s subjects.

Journal Reference:
Alan G. McElligott, Kristine H. O’Keeffe, Alexandra C. Green. Kangaroos display gazing and gaze alternations during an unsolvable problem task. Biology Letters, 2020; 16 (12): 20200607 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2020.0607

Press Release: University of Roehampton

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